There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane: What Morality, Medicine & Documentary Can’t Explain

Acclaimed documentarian Liz Garbus‘s most recent documentary feature, There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane (which premiered this week on HBO), examines what might have led supermom Diane Schuler to drive a borrowed minivan southbound in the northbound lane of the New York’s Taconic State Parkway two years ago. With her two young children and her three nieces (all under the age of ten) as passengers, Schuler drove her borrowed minivan at a high rate of speed until it collided head-on with another vehicle. The crash caused the deaths of eight people, including all three occupants of the other car, four of Schuler’s five passengers, and Schuler herself. Police investigators retrieved an empty vodka bottle from Schuler’s vehicle and the official toxicology report subsequently revealed both that Schuler’s blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit and also that Schuler had recently ingested marijuana.

Beyond these details of the incident, the only certainty the documentary offers is suggested by its title, There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane. Read More »

Amy Winehouse: She Fell to Pieces

Points renowned pop culture guest blogger, Eoin Cannon, returns today with thoughts on the recent death of soul singer Amy Winehouse.

Amy Winehouse, r.i.p.

Singer Amy Winehouse’s death on Saturday was one of those occasions which brings not so much drugs, but the relationships between addiction, fame, and art to the forefront of public conversation. The presumption that Winehouse died from an overdose is supported only by anecdotal reports at this point. But whatever the cause of her death, her binge drinking, drug use, and stints in rehab were well documented. What really places her at the center of the addict-artist discussion, though, is how explicitly her lyrics included the subject matter of escapist intoxication, destructive behavior, and regret. She subjugated these elements to the perennial songwriting theme of heartbreak, but within that framework she wielded drug and alcohol imagery in unprecedented ways. Read More »

E.M. Jellinek’s Essay on Drinking’s Symbolism: Another Look

Whatever’s written in your heart,

that’s all that matters.

You’ll find a way to say it all someday.

 — Gerry Rafferty (1947-2011)

This is a heart-warming story.  You’ll see!

As a young man, in Budapest, E.M. Jellinek (1890-1963) became involved in the then-blossoming psychoanalytic movement.  He seems to have had a particular fascination with the interpretation of symbols, in relation to both culture and the human psyche.  Jellinek knew Sandor Ferenczi, leader of the Budapest School of Psychoanalysis, and was analyzed by him.  Jellinek was also friends with Geza Roheim – an ethnographer and analyst, Jellinek’s contemporary, and, in due course, a leader in the application of psychoanalytic concepts to cultural interpretation.(1)  Jellinek even reportedly preceded Sigmund Freud to the lectern at the 5th International Psychoanalytical Congress in Budapest in September, 1918.(2)

Psychoanalytic A-Team, 1922. Seated, left to right, Freud, Ferenczi, and Hanns Sachs; standing, Otto Rank, Karl Abraham, Max Eitingon, and Ernest Jones

Ferenczi’s correspondence with Sigmund Freud included a couple of mentions of Jellinek’s early stabs at symbolic interpretation.  In a letter dated June 13, 1917 – in which, incidentally, Ferenczi referred to Jellinek as an ethnologist – Ferenczi wrote: Read More »

We Are the Drug War: Prohibition as Success

In her final guest post for Points, Siobhan Reynolds asserts that the oft-repeated claim that the War on Drugs has failed should be reassessed from the point of view of those who profit from its outcomes. Looked at from that perspective, Reynolds sees opiate regulation as central to the drug war’s astonishing success.

Protesters Rail against the Drug War with Puns

Drug policy reformers have rallied for an end to drug prohibition calling it a dismal failure. To my mind, however, in order to understand this thing that has taken on a life all its own and to ultimately change course, if that is possible, one has to stop looking at the drug war as a failure and instead regard it as a spectacular success. There’s no denying that drug war policies and practices have turned physicians against the interests of their patients, been wildly expensive, destroyed the criminal justice

Activists Protest Drug War Over-Incarceration

system, and facilitated the incarceration of people in the United States to a degree that would make Stalin or the Chinese envious. People who value civil liberties above all other social goods undoubtedly consider such developments evidence of failure. But these chilling outcomes do benefit some. A mature view would necessitate that we look at who profits under drug prohibition in order to truly judge what it has become.Read More »

Remembering Betty Ford

“Have you heard the news?”  I received a flurry of emails like this from family members and friends in the hours and days after Betty Ford’s death.  They know of my work on the history of alcoholic women, so it was a logical question.  Of course, I was saddened to hear of her passing, and in the aftermath I have found myself grappling with questions of periodization and pondering the sense of ownership we sometimes attach to the issues and people we study.  On the one hand, Ford was “outside my period” as we say in the trade, since my research has concentrated on the nineteenth and early-to-mid twentieth century era.  In fact, I was acutely uncomfortable writing about someone who was still living, and so I had relegated Ford to the epilogue of my book-in-progress.  On the other hand, I have found to my surprise that I have cultivated some proprietary feelings about her as well.   As a girl growing up in Michigan during the 1970s, I was aware that my mother and her friends—regardless of their formal political affiliations—admired Ford’s down-to-earth character as First Lady, believing it reflected a regional, gendered identity which they shared, that of the capable, unpretentious Midwestern woman.  This image, in turn, shaped Ford’s cultural meaning as a female alcoholic and addict.

Read More »

Reflection on the Global Commission on Drug Policy Report: ‘The War on Drugs Has Failed’

Editors’ Note: We’re delighted to publish a guest post today from Ingrid Walker, an Associate Professor of Arts, Media and Culture in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, Tacoma.  Prof. Walker presented a paper, “Between Addiction and Interdiction: A Phenomenology of Using in the U.S. Drug War,” at the recent ADHS conference.  Here, she offers some reflections on the recent report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.  A link to the report is at the end of the post.

While the other passengers on my return flight from the Buffalo ADHS conference dove into summer reading, I expressed my academic geekitude by pulling out a report published in June by the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP). From the opening declaration that “the global war on drugs has failed,” I unexpectedly found myself engaged in the policy equivalent of a page-turner. The GCDP’s report is well researched and makes a set of recommendations that fundamentally confront drug control policy and practice in countries that have championed a “war” on drugs. Following the lead of organizations and states that have focused on illicit drug use as a human rights issue, the Commission takes a progressive position on drug use, policy, and interdiction and pulls no punches as it calls for profound revision of drug policies worldwide. The report makes a persuasive call for depoliticized, knowledgeable discourse and action.Read More »

The Hanging of Jack Slade, A Rowdy Drunk

Don’t cross him, don’t boss him

He’s wild in his sorrow

— Willie Nelson, The Red Headed Stranger

Double hanging, Montana Vigilantes

Jack Slade (1) was hanged at Virginia City – in what was then Idaho Territory– by the local Committee of Vigilance on March 10, 1864.  According to Frederick Allen’s tabulation, Slade was the 23rd (of a total of 57) outlaws strung-up by the committee over the course of its half-dozen-year-long period of activity.(2)  What’s interesting about Slade’s execution – at least from an alcohol history perspective – is that he’d committed no capital crime.  Slade, by most accounts, was simply a bad drunk, a hellraiser, and also oftentimes, when in his cups, an insufferable bully.  Nathanial Pitt Langford, an early chronicler of this vigilante movement – in an area that became part of the new Montana Territory in May, 1864 – closed his chapter on Slade by quoting a friend’s lamentation on the man (3):

“Slade was unquestionably a most useful man in his time to the stage line, and to the cause of progress in the Far West, and he never was a robber, as some have represented; but after years of contention with desperate men, he became so reckless and regardless of human life that his best friends must concede that he was at times a most dangerous character, and no doubt, by his defiance of the authority and wholesome discipline of the Vigilantes, brought upon himself the calamity which he suffered.”

Read More »

100 Posts–A Points Milestone

Our previous post was number one hundred for the Points blog–a small number, I suppose, in the blogging world, but still something of a milestone for our start-up enterprise!  The tag cloud to the right shows the most commonly used tags in the first 100 posts:

Addiction–32 posts; Policy–31 posts; Alcohol–23 posts; law–16 posts; popular culture–16 posts; research–16 posts

The top five most-read posts of the previous 100?  Here they are (linked, so you can read them if you missed them the first time they appeared):

Read More »

Final Dispatch from Buffalo: Licit Drug Wars

Editors’ Note: The following is the final installment in our series of reports on the biennial ADHS conference held in Buffalo.  Our thanks to Michael Durfee, Nancy Campbell, Joe Gabriel, and Michelle McClellan for their earlier posts.  This time, Joe Spillane tries his hand at post-conference reflection.

Licit Drug Wars

Historians of so-called “licit” drugs face a number of challenges in their work.  Where does that term–licit drugs–even take us, and what does it mean?  In general, of course, it means a focus on regulated-but-legal products of the pharmaceutical industry, but the boundaries of the term are pretty fuzzy.  Still more challenging, it seems to me, is the task of navigating a field where contemporary thought is so dominated by two strong, competing narratives.  The first I’d call the “consumer protection” narrative, in which licit drugs are generally viewed with suspicion as products of an exploitative corporate culture that dupes physicians and victimizes consumers.  The liberal drug warriors, in effect.  The second is what I’d call the “social control/moral panic” narrative, in which efforts to control licit drugs reflects an aggrandizing tendency of state bureaucracies to control all aspects of human behavior, and in which licit drugs (like other substances) are subject to panicked reactions by a society viewing them through the distorting lenses of race, gender, and class.  Four intrepid souls made the journey on this panel.Read More »

More Dispatches from Buffalo: Regulating Alcohol

H2: Regulating Alcohol in the 20th Century and I1: American Alcohol Policy

These two sessions at the Buffalo conference demonstrate how various regulatory systems—including law and policy but also market forces and spatial relationships—interact to shape the availability of alcohol, and also its normalization, in a specific time and place.  I found much to think about across the two sessions, and based on many thoughtful questions raised at each session, the rest of the audience did as well.

Session H2: Regulating Alcohol in the 20th Century

In his engaging presentation on the dramatic drop in the number of cafes in France during World War II, Scott Haine connected the Vichy regime’s enforcement of zoning regulations regarding the location of cafes with new visions for urban planning and concerns about population decline.  He also noted that the context of the war mattered, as competition among cafes increased sharply in the midst of shortages.  The Vichy campaign was not aimed at wine as such, but at cafes as institutions that were considered disreputable.

Dan Malleck analyzed the role of Ontario’s Liquor Control Boards in reconstructing the “citizen drinker” during the 1930s and 1940s, after prohibition ended in Ontario in 1927.  With snazzy graphics, Malleck focused on particular hotels in Toronto that applied for the authority to serve alcohol but were rejected.  Introducing us to both the interior hotel spaces and the streetscape, Malleck used these examples effectively to probe the nature of bureaucracy and its powers of surveillance, as well as to illuminate the “moral geography” of these drinking spaces and the “calculus of need” that underlay the applications.

William Rorabaugh provided a clear and incisive overview of U.S. alcohol policy as it emerged in the aftermath of national Prohibition, concentrating on Washington State.  He emphasized that repeal advocates did not want a free market in alcohol but instead sought strict state control; a preference in the law for lighter drinks; and a three-tier regulatory structure that would prevent vertical integration and forbid producers from becoming too powerful.Read More »